During Family Mediation Week (20-24 January 2020) Jo Lofthouse looks at the role Mediation can play in a divorce
During the first couple of months of a New Year, many couples discover that the Christmas break has led to a period of reflection in respect of their relationship, which may have been failing for some time. They may decide that with the dawn of another year it is now time to consider permanently separating.
This can be a daunting and upsetting time for all parties involved and many people who come to see us are confused and unsure as to how they wish to proceed once they have made the decision that their marriage or relationship has irretrievably broken down. Although many of our clients may not have experienced divorce or separation previously, the vast majority of people will know someone (or will know someone in their family) who has been through a divorce or separation. Many will have seen, from the sidelines, the emotional impact that separation can have on the couple involved and also the lasting effect that this can have upon any children.
When a couple first separate, they will often have a number of priority issues that are causing them anxiety and concern, sometimes these are in relation to the arrangements for the children, concerns as to where they go from here and financial security for the future, whilst also grieving for the loss of the relationship. The majority of people that we see want to reach an amicable resolution as quickly as possible so that they can have some certainty as to what the future may hold. There are several options available when trying to reach an amicable agreement and one which we regularly consider is that of family mediation.
Many people are not aware of family mediation however the key to this is that it keeps the couple themselves in the driving seat, in terms of making decisions as to what the outcomes of their separation might be as opposed to a Court hearing, where outcomes would ultimately be imposed upon them.
Family mediation will not try and keep a couple together and it mustn’t be confused with a counselling service but it is a safe space for both parties to air their views and to talk about what their concerns are as they try and reach an agreement on the big issues. A mediator will approach matters accepting that a change in life is inevitable and they will listen to the upset and concern but not dwell upon it. Rather, they will concentrate on ways that a couple can work together to move forward to the next stage of their lives, whether they will no longer be in contact with one another or whether they are transitioning from being partners to being co-parents.
Family mediation is a voluntary process, so both parties need to be prepared and willing to attend, it is also confidential. A trained family mediator will help couples to discuss and negotiate all aspects of their separation in the hope that they can then reach a joint decision about their futures.
By its very nature family mediation is often less positional and confrontational than Court proceedings and although the process itself can still be stressful – it cannot be underestimated how difficult it can be for a couple to be able to come together and talk about their issues in a room with a third party – generally this is less stressful in the long term than what can be a lengthy Court process.
In mediation, a couple will sit with a trained mediator to consider all the things that need to be agreed upon. This will include financial affairs, children and many other issues that go to the core of what matters the most to them, however, mediators take simple practical steps to reduce wherever possible, the friction between a separating couple. A case in point, if necessary, mediation can in some circumstances take place in two separate rooms, then over time they can come together once they are more confident about meeting in the same room.
Through mediation a couple can often reach a resolution quicker than through an application being made to the Court, similarly by attending mediation to reach a level of agreement, a couple’s legal fees will be kept to a minimum in comparison to a fully contested Court application process.
Many family mediators are also family lawyers and therefore they approach the mediation process with a clear knowledge of what matters need to be considered. They are trained to provide support when considering property and financial matters as well as how a couple will continue to make ends meet moving forward, they will also consider arrangements for the children. As experts, they might also consider some circumstances that may not have crossed a separating couple’s mind, for example the putting together of a parenting plan so that the foundations are laid for what is hoped will be a positive co-parenting experience for both parties and more importantly, for the children.
The mediation process can be flexible to suit a families unique circumstances and therefore it provides a vital service to separating couples, working alongside their lawyers in resolving all issues that have arisen as a result of the breakdown of a relationship.
Whilst family mediation is not for everybody it is often a useful process to attempt to reach an amicable solution in a shorter timeframe and at less cost than a Court hearing.